Love of teaching at heart of Wash's character
Texas manager driven to pass on knowledge: 'I'll help anybody'
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington was on the field at 8:15 on a clear Wednesday morning with everything he needed to do his job.He had a fungo and glove draped over his left shoulder, a cup of coffee in his right hand and a big bucket of baseballs waiting for him on the half-field. He also had an infielder waiting for him. Washington wasn't even sure of his name because the player is not even in the organization. This young man's name is Dion and he's a friend of Mark McLemore, the former Rangers second baseman who is in camp as a special instructor. McLemore asked Washington to work with him, and the manager was more than willing. "That's what I do," Washington said. "I'll help anybody. I'll even help you if you're willing." The "half-field" is where the Rangers do their infield defense work. It is a diamond with no outfield behind the infield dirt, and they might as well name it the Ron Washington Field because this is his favorite place to be during Spring Training. "Yep ... I can get out here and work," Washington said. "That's what I love. I love being on the field. I love to teach and I love to give knowledge. I like to make people feel good about themselves."
Washington started with footwork. He showed Dion how to approach a grounder, where to position his hands and how to watch it with his eyes into the glove. He showed him the proper way to backhand a grounder."The only way it gets into that palm is if you put it there," Washington said. Washington set up 10 feet away from Dion on the left side of the infield and knelt down in the dirt. From that position, he started flipping one-hop grounders to Dion, right at him, to his left and then to backside. He also maintained a steady stream of commentary. "Pick it!" Washington said, "Stick it! ... Beautiful! ... That's the one I want! ... That's the sound I want to hear!" Washington backed up onto the grass and started hitting grounders at him: straight, left, right -- teaching the same defensive fundamentals that made Eric Chavez a six-time Gold Glove winner in Oakland. Chavez presented Washington with one of those Gold Gloves as thanks for all his help. "You know where you get that corn on your foot?" Washington told Dion. "That's where I want you to catch the ball." This is the work ethic and ability to teach that attracted the Rangers five years ago when they went looking for a manager. "Wash is a teacher first," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's in his element with a fungo and bucket of balls, and usually with no cameras, no one watching. He's one of the more accomplished managers in the big leagues, but he still loves the purity of being on the field, teaching kids the finer points of the game and working with infielders. "How many of his peers go down to the Dominican every winter and work with a bunch of teenagers, some of whom won't ever make it to a Major League Spring Training camp? It's who he is and what he loves." There was still an hour to go before the full squad would assemble on the stretching field to begin the morning workout. But the back fields were already busy. Across the pathway, Alexi Ogando was throwing batting practice to Conor Jackson while Derek Holland and Scott Feldman were waiting for their turn. The White Tank Mountains to the west gleamed in the morning light and a mockingbird could be heard cooing for a lover. High above a couple of F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke Air Force Base roared off to a training exercise over the Sonora Desert. The manager was oblivious to the surroundings and kept hitting ground balls to Dion. The workout lasted 15 minutes and Washington did not rush off. Instead he leaned on his fungo and chatted with Dion and McLemore for another 10 minutes. "He's looking for a place to play," Washington said. "We don't have room for him here. I told him he needs to go out and play independent ball. If he has the skills, they'll find him." Washington is on the half-field every morning working with somebody. Most of the time is spent with his own players. His special project this spring are the Rangers' utility infield candidates who are new to the organization: Alberto Gonzalez, Luis Hernandez, Yangervis Solarte and Greg Miclat. "I wanted to get my eyes on them," Washington said. "That's what I've been working on. We've got to make a decision, and I wanted to see it for myself -- see what they have to offer." Miclat was with the Orioles for the past four years. The Rangers acquired him and pitcher Randy Henry in a trade for catcher Taylor Teagarden. He is only 5-foot-8 but hit .280 in the Eastern League last season with a .371 on-base percentage and 50 steals. He has never played above Double-A but now he is getting firsthand instruction on the art of infield play from the Major League manager. "Man, it's a great experience," Miclat said. "It's sort of surprising how easy it is to approach him and talk to him. I've learned a lot. The guy is so easy to talk to and jokes around with you, it's a laid-back comfortable feeling. But we also get a lot of work done. It's the best of both worlds." It is the essence of Ron Washington's world. "I've been around a lot of good managers, and he's one of the best," McLemore said. "It's more than a work ethic ... it's him. He can't help it. It's what he does. It's like breathing to him ... teaching whoever wants to work with him. I bet he does it in his sleep and enjoys every minute."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.